Tir Founder Fields, Cwmbach Home

Tirfounder Fields

(Ynys-Cynon), Mid Cynon Floodplains,
Cwmbach, Aberdare, RCT, South Wales, UK.

Identification of Birds, Flowers & Wildlife.

Hi! I am James, a local amateur naturalist. Due to geographical convenience and abundance of wildlife I have identified, documented and photographed most of the species of bird & plants and many of the insects at Tirfounder Fields in Cwmbach. The area has a concentrated mix of river, floodplains, marsh, canals, hedgerows, woods, wasteground, scrubland, meadows and grassland and so makes good diversity for an indepth study. The upper and lower flooplains are defined as a SINC area (Site of Importance for Nature Conservation). This does not give it the protection it deserves, but ensures that consideration may be given to witness reports such as these. My interest in nature was rekindled at frustration at not being able to identify plants outside my general knowledge. Seeing the bulldozers roll in to build new estates nearby also spurred me to document whatever was there in the event that should I wish to deluge councillors with evidence of life, and for posterity. Site Update 24th Dec 2020.

Species Identification

The below pictures link to galleries of species photographed
by myself in 2012-18 at Tirfounder Fields. Updated 1st Dec 2018.


Grasses etc








I have (as a amateur botanist with horticultural college qualifications) correctly identified & photographed 90% of the plant & bird species here, using the Botanical Society of the British Isles & RSPB databases. If you feel I have misidentified a species, or wish to add your own pics, email me at spooksprung@binternet.com. The identification lists above are a work in progress, but give a snapshot of those discovered to date. Any doubts about the classification of an exact species is expressed in comments below the photographs.

Tirfounder Complete Plant List 2013
Tirfounder Complete Moth List 2003
Tirfounder Complete Bird List 2016

Latest Bird/Animal Sightings, 2020 @ Tirfounder By J.M.B.

Tir Founder Fields Summer Migrant 1st Sightings 2020: 13th Mar Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) 10 days earlier. 21st Mar Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) influx of x6. 4th Apr Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus). 6th Apr Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus) 14 days earlier. 8th Apr Sand Martin (Riparia riparia) Aberdare, probs been there a while. 11th Apr Swallow (Hirundo rustica). 16th Apr Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus) since Sat acc. to River Warden. 21st Apr Whitethroat (Sylvia communis). 23rd Apr Garden Warbler (Sylvia borin) 10 days earlier. 27th Apr House Martin (Delichon urbicum). 9th May Swift (Apus apus).

Notable Birds: Dec, Little Egret

Birds Winter 2020: Goosander, Teal, Redwing, Snipe, Little Egret

Mammals 2020: Otter, Squirrel, Hedgehog

Tir Founder Nature News 2020
Two great floods at the beginning of the year inundated the site up to 5 foot, although tragic for Pontypridd town, was a fresh restock and cleanse for Tirfounder. Less time spent on site due to work commitments means missing much of the action, but passing every day makes me familiar with any new migrant arrivals, which all turned up notably earlier, 2 weeks in some cases. Swans tried three times for eggs. 2nd was succesfull, with two cygnets hatching at start of July. Three weeks they were dead. RSPCA inquest couldnt find a cause, but was obviously poisoning or shooting. Someone must be paid to carry out these mindless acts. This prompted a local outcry, and a new group was formed, with the aim of purchasing the land for nature use. A field of scrubland was cleared opposite ASDA, another loss of foraging ground. New bridge built at head of canal. Repair work to Aberaman bridge. Much of the fishing platform near Ynys fields washed away.

Latest Bird Sightings in South Wales

My Latest Blog Entries are now here (with pics): Spooks' South Wales Birding Blog

Previous Nature Reports for Tirfounder Fields

Tir Founder Notable Birds 2018

Summer Migrant 1st Sightings 2019: 8th Mar, Chiffchaff. 24th Mar, Blackcap. 7th Apr, Willow Warbler, Swallow. 14th Apr, Sand Martin. 21st Apr, Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler.

Notable Birds: 27th Jan Great White Egret (overwintering at the Phurnacite ponds).

Birds Winter 2019: Goosander, Teal, Redwing, Fieldfare

Mammals 2019:

Tir Founder Nature News 2019
Fortuitous start to the year with a Great White Egret overwintering on the Phurnacite, regularly visting Tir Founder, normally seen down in Llanelli. Very mild winter brought it the migrants early, with Chiffchaff arriving 2 weeks eariler than any previous report in last 5 years, Swallows a week early. The two young swans have now matured, and by their characteristics can be confirmed as male and female, and are now nesting on the main pond. A kingfisher began a nest right under the main footpath, but looks like it got scared off. End of Apr a Heron has a nest near the Swans, with 5-7 of them regularly on site, suggesting abundance of fish and possibility of a heronry. June Update: 2 herons hatched on main pond. Swan chicks eaten on 1st day by herons. x1 Canada Goose chick. Large swarm of black bees near railway 23rd June.

Tir Founder Notable Birds 2018

Summer Migrant Arrivals 2018: Chiffchaff, 20th Mar. Blackcap, 5th Apr. Willow Warbler, 7th Apr. Grasshopper Warbler, 14th Apr. Swallow, 19th Apr. House Martin, Sand Martin, Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler, Whitethroat, 21-23rd Apr. Swift, Garden Warbler, 1st May.

Notable Birds: 30th Mar, Peregrine, Buzzard and Sparrowhawk, flying around overhead. 5th Apr, Tufted Duck. Cetti's Warbler resident from 7th May to date (7th Jun) (may have been there for months prior as in slightly inaccsessible lower floodplain). Suitable nesting habitat.

Birds Winter 2018: the two now resident paired Mute Swans in 2nd year, are nesting and displaying. They are probably cousins or more closely related from the Phurnacite ponds. I thought they were 2 males bcse of beak size, but we'll see! Migrants: Goosander, Reed Bunting, Redwing, Fieldfare, Meadow Pipit, Teal, large flocks of Siskin, occassionaly seen. 28th Feb, Jack Snipe (exact same bush as last year).

Mammals 2018: 27th Feb, Weasel near back pond. 1st May, 7th Jun, Squirrel. 14th May, mass of Otter spraints.

Tir Founder Nature News 2018
A short blizzard at the beginning of the year brought in a large gaggle of Gulls of all species to the only unfrozen area of the main pond kept open by the pair of male Mute Swans, a flock of Redwing and Fieldfares. Up at Cefnpennar a Mistle, Song, Fieldfare, Redwing and Blackbird were all fighting over the last berried Holly in the valley. The ususual migrants arriving and bred in timely fashion, notable Grasshopper singing 2 metres from me in the brambles. First Peregrine sighted flying over head in April, with a returning Cettis Warbler possibly breeding just behind Brewsters. Plently of evidence of Otter activity. Dead Water Shrew found again on side of road.

Tir Founder Notable Birds 2017

Summer Migrants Arrivals: 12th Mar, Chiffchaff (11th, M.Bevan). 30th Mar, Blackcap. 1st Apr, Willow Warbler, Sand Martin. 14th Apr, Swallow. 18th Apr, House Martin, Sedge Warbler (17th M.Bevan). 21st Apr, Reed Warbler, Whitethroat. 5th May, Swift.

Local Rarities/Interest: 7th Jan, Muscovy Duck. 1st Feb, Siberian Chiffchaff or Willow Warbler (to be decided by committee). Feb-May, Little Egret. 21st Jan, Jack Snipe. from Nov '16, now resident, Mute Swan. 21st Apr, Egyptian Goose. Brief view and call of a brown coloured warbler on 5th May with a song like garden warbler, but more metallic (could have been anything!). 13-17th May, Lesser Whitethroat. 13-19th May, Aylesbury Duck. 2 Nov, 200 Starling murmuration. 13th Nov, flock approx 40 Siskins.

Mammals 2017: Squirrel, x3 21st Jan. x1 3rd May. Otter x2, Feb-Mar. Water Shrew, 4th May. Grass-snake, 6th May. Fox, 6th July. Young cub standing at end of Aberdare Canal, approx 10am, just staring at me, hid in bushes for a while. 13th Nov, Adult Otter and cub fishing in the back pond.

Tir Founder Nature News 2017
Jan-Mar: The expected floods did not come this year, plus with a very mild winter heralded the arrival of a solitary Little Egret. Mistaken at first for a shopping bag floating on the reeds, this magical bird soon dispelled such unbelief, blessing this marsh with a status beyond any managed wildlife site in the valleys, being as it is the first recorded here in a vast 20 mile radius (according to Bird Track). With gains we have losses, such as is with the Willow Tits who are absent here for 2 seasons now. We can only point fingers of blame at human activity resulting in loss of habitat. The 'usual' winter migrants always turn up on time, I suspect they are the same birds, loyal to their rich territories, as they always come in the same numbers. E.g. Teal (8). Goosander (2). Redwing (12). Wigeon (1). Meadow Pipit (1), and probably international Blackbirds. Sadly no Waxwings as reported elsewhere. Very unusual though was a suspected Siberian Chiffchaff in Feb. This was definitely NOT a Chiffchaff because of its extreme pale and grey appearance, but because of lack of call, the local rarities committee would not consider it a formal identification, since there are many similar 'brown job' species.

On a sunny freezing morning in Jan, I was relieved to see that two Otters had returned here, with a holt under overhanging tree roots. It appeared to be a female adult and cub, that I spotted 3 times successively over the next 2 months, confirming that they were resident, as least for the winter. I set up a night cam (stealth cam) with organic wild fish bait, and was not surprised to find my first video images to contain them. The resident Mute Swan, who I suspected was a young male driven from the Phurnactite family found love in Mar , with an older female, possibly a step sister from last season, who knows. A nest of cygnets here would boost this area to Royal Status in my opinion. The swarm of Chiffchaffs arriving on 11th Mar (courtesy Martin Bevan) brought with them Spring, and so the end of this report. All videos and photos in our Social Media (buttons above).

International Winter Migrants @ Tirfounder 2016: Teal, Goosander, Redwing, Blackbird.

Local Winter Migrants: Goldcrest, Meadow Pipit.

Summer Migrant 1st Sightings @ Tirfounder 2016: 17th Mar, Chiffchaff. 2nd Apr, Willow Warbler. 3rd Apr, Blackap. ((Passage: Sand Martin 5th Apr)). ((Passage: Swallow, 5th Apr)). 16th Apr, Sedge Warbler. 18th Apr, Whitethroat. 29th Apr, Reed Warbler, Garden Warbler. 1st May, House Martin. 2nd May, Swift.

Local Rarities '16: 3rd Jun - Grasshopper Warbler. 16th May - Spotted Flycatcher. 2, 4th April - Mute Swans. Jan-Mar: Cetti's Warbler. Jan 16th: Willow Tit

Winter Migrants '15-'16: (Nov-Mar) Goosander, Teal. 21st Mar, 40x Redwing.

Mammals '16: 11th Mar, 20th Oct: Mink

Nature News 2016
5th Apr: The resident breeding migrant flight landings are now in full swing with at least 10x Chiffchaffs, 5x Willow Warblers and a handful of Blackcaps. Sand Martins & Swallows have been passing overhead since around late March, but I didn't get a visual to confirm species, those seen on 5th Apr were also passing through, but I got a good close up to confirm. This influx of species seems to have driven off the Cetti's Warbler as no sighting since the 29th Mar. In the fenced area where he set up territory there were seen a nesting Greylag, Moorhen, Canada goose, 5x Willow Warblers and even a Mink, so no surprise he moved on. Down at the Phurnacite Ponds, the 2 Mute Swans reared 2 youngsters successfully last year, but the head male flew into some power-lines. The female managed to attract another mate, and he drove off the fledglings, who hung around on the Tirfounder main pond, but were disturbed and now are at Aberdare Park, they appear to be a male and female.

20th Oct: The Phurnie Swan pair raised 6 young this year, plenty of scope for at least one to settle here. The Greylag Geese successfully reared 7 young, but did not hang around due to disturbance and were last seen on the river in May. A Grasshopper Warbler was churring in July, I'm not sure he stopped to breed, but his cousins the Reed Warbler & Sedge Warbler certainly did as per usual. Offsite, on 30th May at Cefn Y Gyngon in the Country Park, was greeted by the familiar site of Wheaters, Redstars, Whinchats and Tree Pipits, but in profound shock at stumbling upon a "cuckold", 4 Cuckoos in the same field chasing each other, and landing not metres away from me for some mutually curious inspections. Presumed to be mating rituals.

Industrial News 2016
5th Apr: The Persimmon houses are entering their final stage so the noise levels may settle down there. A copse of trees was sawn down at the old Botanical Brewery on the other side of the river, near where the otter holt was reported in 2012, I can see potential house building there. A drainage channel was dug near the Aberaman bridge (about Jan) presumably by Persimmon or the Council, whether they had permission or not is none of my business. The Council has also stripped the Aberdare canal of all overhanging trees, presumably to prevent the drains from clogging, but leaves less cover for wildlife, they also have a strict mowing regime that cuts right to the waters edge. The canal is designated on OS maps at least as a "nature reserve", so I am glad they don't actually own Tirfounder if that is how they manage their special areas. Camping, shooting and poaching of fish and ducks carry on at a leisurely pace, these are not professionals, but they do upset the birds. Technically they are trespassing and breaking the law. Whether you would get a Policeman in his wellies chasing agile youths into the mire would be an eventful sight.

20th Oct: The council contractors have completed their drainage improvements along the public footpath to the bridge. This innovative scheme used 500 tons of Tarmac to a height of 1 foot or so in places. Corbels have been placed on the near side of the bridge with a realignment of the tumbled rocks. This fantastic engineer project overlooks one point, water will eddy at the bridge in the coming floods, washing away the 500 tons or so or loose uncompacted earth dumped there and the rocks will fall over. Basically they did the same thing they did 10 years ago, and did not learn from their mistakes. Certainly defines the adjective of stupidity.

2015 Wildlife Sightings

Spring Migrant Arrivals '15: 14th Mar, Chiffchaff. 6th Apr, Willow Warbler. 10th Apr, Blackcap.
16th Apr, Sedge Warbler. 17th Apr, Reed Warbler. 19th Apr, Swallow & Whitethroat. 23rd Apr, Sand Martin & Garden Warbler. 4th May, House Martin.

Local Rarities 2015: Sept & Oct, 16, 28, 29th Dec 2015: Cetti's Warbler. One male calling from reed bed. Seems he may be overwintering here if the warm weather holds out.

Mammal Sighting '15: 10th Mar: Weasel.

Winter Sightings 2015: 2nd Jan, 4x Goosander. 18+19th Jan, Chiffchaff. 18th Jan 25x Teal. 1st Feb, 12x Bullfinch. Jan-Apr, Willow Tit. 17 Feb, 13x Redwing.

Snipe Survey 2015: 1st Feb, 3 in lower marsh, potential for more. 0 in upper marsh.

Tirfounder Report Dec 2015
The year at Tirfounder Fields in Cwmbach usually begins with a great flood, and this year was no exception which had me jumping over large clumps of rotting pondweed to spot 4x Goosander, 25x Teal and a flock of 12x hungry Bullfinches and as many Longtailed Tits. The usual resident Willow Tits were calling from early Jan to Apr, with the unexpected arrival of a passing Chiffchaff on the 18th of Jan. While keeping an eager eye out for the spring migrants I was surprised by a little furry face that popped out from behind a wall on the Aberaman bridge on the 10th March. This young Weasel was very nervous, but evidently just wanted to cross the road and was in no hurry to do so while a 'giant' with a video-camera sat staring at him. I placed the video with all other Cwmbach wildlife on my Youtube channel. The 'usual suspect' list of migrants came, sang, fed, bred and left by the end of July, which usually leaves me twiddling my thumbs, but Kingfishers, Dippers, flocks of Siskin, Little Grebes, Reed Buntings, Water Rail, Great Spotted Woodpecker and passing Sparrowhawks still bring great interest, all of which are breeding on or close to the site. The Greylag Geese also bred successfully this year again with 7 young between them, all of which seem to have survived, they being herded off to Aberdare Town Park to join the pair of Egyptian, Canada and Chinese Geese.

Then in September I take a back-seat and don't expect anything unusual to turn up, especially in months of overcast weather. But it is a mistake to sit on your laurels when in the natural world, as the crowning glory of another successful ornithological year came with the arrival of a Cetti's Warbler to the site on 29th Sept, while going to the shops! It caused some excitement among other local birders, and we suspect because it is giving its startling, unforgettable, trilling call from the rushes that it is a mature male that has come up from either the Swansea or Cardiff coastal groups, they being so successful, and with the weather warming up, expanding into new territories. I last heard him call on 16th of Dec, so I believe if the weather holds out we could see him a permanent and maybe breeding resident!

Off site down at the Phurnacite Ponds the successful pairing and breeding of two baby Swan cygnets came to tragedy when the male apparently crashed into power lines, so we are told, and the mother and babies fledged, presumably back to their owner in Windsor. I was delighted to encounter a Crossbill at Llyn Fawr near Hirwaun, but astonished when 12 of them flew past at Baverstocks forestry in Sept. Another highlight of the year was spotting 3 Tree Pipts, 2 Redstarts, 2 Whinchats, and 2 Wheaters within yards of each other near Cefn Y Gyngon in the Country Park on 16th May, all of which gives me the satisfaction of knowing that the barren wastes of Aberdare still throws up surprises.

2014 Wildlife Sightings

1st Migrant Sightings 2014: Chiffchaff 15th March. Blackcap 24th March. Willow Warbler 30th March. Swallow 12th April. Sedge Warbler 16th April. Whitethroat 18th April. Garden Warbler 26th April. House Martin 27th April. Reed Warbler 27th April. Cuckoo 4th May. Swift 6th May

Mammal Sightings '14: April, Mink spotted twice this week. May, Otter, foraging under rocks

Winter Migrants Oct-Jan '13/'14: Willow Tit, Goosader, Wigeon, Fieldfare, Redwing, Teal.

Tirfounder News for 2014 - Wildlife
The major event this year was the 'great flood' in January which saw an inundation of probably a metre or so of flood water covering the whole site, nearly leading to the inundation of the new Perssimon homes (a bank was heightened recently to this effect). Although inconvenient for traffic, it helped to clear the pond of an accumulation of invasive Canadian pond weed from the waterways, and brought in silt and fish helping to revitalise the area. Among the usual flocks of siskins, long tailed tits, goldfinches, herons I was blessed with an audience with the elusive Willow Tit in spring, who seems to only turn up to 'mark' his territory from January to March. Where they are nesting and whether they feed on site in summer remains a mystery, but it seems conclusive that if they are calling here, then they feed here intermittently. From listening to to their calls alone, at one time I heard 2 males calling while watching a third. According to Bird Track, they have been spotted throughout the Valleys, so by no means an isolated population. I find it remarkable that I can spot up to 45 robins and as many blackbirds on the site on one visit, sometimes in their noisy parliaments, and then only a handful on another occasion, it may be an annual 'fight' for rights' to this premium site. With so many reed warblers on site it was not unexpected to hear my fist cuckoo on site calling in May, bringing the number of red list species up to 10.

Some other memorable moments include spotting 3 kingfishers at once, two males appeared to be calling (very close to me) to a female upstream, and there is never a bird trip when they fail to turn up. I was also over the moon to spot my first otter on site in May, after being sceptical about their presence. A female (I assume) scrambled underneath rocks near the fishermen's platform looking for crustaceans, this joy was followed by the appearance of mink on several occasions. Every other migrant species that was expected to turn up and breed on site has, (garden, sedge, reed, willow, blackcap, whitethroat, chiff chaff, swallow, swift, sand martin, house) but I do note I have not seen any snipe or grasshopper warblers, but of course they are always well hidden. Also the Greylag geese did not breed this year, one assumes they were either victims of predation, hunting or even displaced by the Canadian Geese which were seen on the 'usual' nest site in the spring, who also sometimes turn up in large flocks. The main flock of Greylags are now located at Aberdare Park, where they interbreed with the Aylesburys and Chinese Geese. Only one remains on the pond permanently, with a damaged wing, presumably shot. I missed the Redwing flocks this year, even when I started to venture out again in November the Hawthorns were already stripped, so one may say they had their fill and moved on, as I videoed a flock of 70 of the Ynys fields this time last year. As I write this the annual spring of Teal hide in the back-pond with their wistful whistling giving them away and will expect the usual pair of Goosanders to turn up soon.

News for 2014 - Industry
For sale signs have gone up at the remainder of the former tip opposite ASDA, it is marked 'for industrial use' I suppose we will expect a factory soon. This is one of the last sites I know of in the Cynon Valley where Goatsbeard & Tansy grows, but of course I cannot ascertain whether this Tansy is a centuries old colony or dumped seeds, but they are certainly a welcome addition. It will be a shame to loose another foraging site for the birds (and myself) and hope that the destitute part of the canal in that area is either revamped or undisturbed. The new completed super school and sports centre on the Ynys does not overly affect the site, other than having some silt and chemical run off, it may be worth my while notifying the headmaster of the diversity of wildlife on her doorstep, especially since I can see schoolchildren hesitantly using Tirfounder as a shortcut. The old doctors surgery which overlooks the site has also been sold, and as always with new owners garden clearance is usually a primary consideration, the problem here is that a small copse of trees has been cleared, which was always a good spot for warblers and the nesting carrion crows. Whether trees have T.P.O.s or are over 200 years old seems to be of little concern. The dredging of the old canal is due to start in December, a little late preparation for the 'expected' winter floods, the pathway water pump under the railway bridge is also regularly maintained for this affect also.

News for 2013 - Wildlife
Putting the bulldozers & guns to one side, summer saw an influx of migrants to the site, that I had not seen in such numbers anywhere in the valley. Every warbler imaginable came here x2, except the cetti. I have captured their territorial songs on video, including the elusive grasshopper warbler. All appear to be breeding. The resident geese on the pond have for the first time produced around 14 offspring, and most of these appear to have survived. The water rail are confirmed as breeding here, with one youngster spotted. Flocks of 70+ pied wagtail, 70+ jackdaws, 70+ herring gull, 200 redwings were spotted foraging on the Ynys fields in Sept-Oct. I have recorded 12 new bird species on site since last year, bringing the total to 73 (including passing visitors). Among those, 21 are @ Amber status and 8 @ Red status, meaning rare and declining numbers. I have spotted and photoed 6 dragonfly types on site, but others have 12 on their lists. Mike Evans forwarded me a list of the 250+ moths he recorded in 2003-4! I can't imagine how I am going to photo all of them, but may put up moth traps. The river warden, CCW (NRW) and six residents in the area tell me they have witnessed otters on site from 2010-12. Either they are lucky or I am otter repellent. None have been seen in 2013, one reportedly was run over on the bypass. I have also contacted the owner of the site, with a general idea of what I am doing, and asked what their intentions might be, but no response has been forthcoming as yet, or from the council.

Tirfounder News for 2013 - Industry
The Persimmon housing development has again doubled in size, although not directly affecting Tirfounder ponds, it disturbed the breeding ground of the Little Ringed Plovers, although I never did get to see them, so I cant confirm they were there. The wash off from the construction also dumped tons of soil in the lower floodplain, filling in the pond completely. RCT Council contracted Network Rail to clear the old canal ditch as part of the relocation of allotments to behind the Jehovah Witness Hall (I'm sure God approved of that). This resulted in half an acre of trees being felled just to get the digger in, and the dredged ditch overflowing, dumping 3 tons of soil into the main canal, which had just been dredged itself a year ago. All unnecessary, and done in an amateur way. An acre of scrub and meadow has also been cleared near the top of the canal, and two acres at the new allotments. Hunting is still a problem here, the police are aware of it, but are reluctant to prosecute for shooting mallards in open season. Finding two dead females without primary wings floating dead in the canal makes me question the validity, integrity and indeed the IQ of those deemed hunters, surely taking them home for the pot would be a redeemable action. Even some mild pot shooting scares wildfowl inordinately, and so they will often be found lurking in smaller hidden ponds.

Site History

This site is special, as it displays how nature can heal scarred industrial ground in a short period of time. For 100 years or so this area was black and polluted with tips, coal mines, a phurnacite nearby and a heavily polluted river. By reconquering lost ground, it has helped clean the lungs and the hearts of many people and given me specifically time out to contemplate, learn, play, meditate and heal my inner turmoils. Some people take pleasure in viewing the wildlife and sampling it's fruits, but others still abhor beauty and trample it down when they can. Most people would be more interested in being overcharged in the supermarket than realising that 20 minutes foraging here could sustain a family table for a week.

The main floodplains were pasture and floodplains from time immemorial, and became part of the Dyffryn Estates, who seem to have inherited the land from the dissolution of the monasteries c.1540. The boundary between two opposing Monastic estates, noted by local historians as being Margam and Caerleon, was located on the river Cynon. The Western side became the Mathews Estate of Aberaman. It would be perfectly reasonable to suggest that the Ynys floodplains were farmed early on by a monastic order, with suggestions of a monastery at Plasdraw (now the Girl's High School), floodplains always being fertile and the main focus of settlement for those abandoning the old continuously inhabited iron forts of the uplands. The area frequently and violently flooded, even thought the river Cynon was shaped and tamed over time.

Cutting through the site North-South first came the Aberdare towpath from 1801 and canal in 1812, carrying iron then coal to the Abercynon junction, parts of which are visible on the site. On the 1839 Tithe map, at least 4 farms are sharing the area, each of those subservient to major land owners of the area, including Lord Aberdare. Then came the collieries, which transformed the west & east of the area into a black wasteland from 1840. The maps from 1875 show 2 collieries and railways snaking all over the area, and a minecart towpath running through the middle of the site. The Powells-Dyffryn Tirfounder colliery sat bang in the top-middle of the site, by which time was winding down production and closed in 1900. Some of the buildings still remain in the Aberdare Demolition site, and cast iron poles with pulleys run along the footpath. Throughout the industrial period it was still used for farmland, which benefited from the drainage that the coal mines provided, including the canalisation of the Cynon river. After the winding down of the mining activity it continued to be used as farmland for another 100 years. Photographs indicate hay was cut on the Ynys until the 1970's, where there was latterly a cattle market.

In the last 30 years the farmland become severely neglected by the absentee owners, and due to lack of drainage, breaches in the river wall and retention of water due to lack of pumping by the mines, raising the water table, reedmace beds have become established here. On the 1874 map a built up bank can be seen stretching the length of the site for protection from floods, parts of this can still be seen today, in cross sections can be seen mounds of well compacted river stones. There are also fortifications of parts of the river with stone walls right on the river's edge, one may assume these were built when the canal came into operation. Later additions include concrete banks, which have not weathered so well.

An industrial park and housing estate was built on part of the scrubland where an old rubbish tip used to be in the 1990s, the estate continues to grow. Although the site is considered very young, that does not diminish its importance, as we can see that nature has dire need of this sort of habitat and has colonised it accordingly. Its sister site Pwll Waun Cynon a few miles to the South has a similar history, and is designated an SSSI thought it contains much less diversity and wildlife.

Future Of The Site

It seems bizarre, almost unfathomable that Tirfounder is neither classed as a Nature Reserve or an SSSI. On every bird watching trip, I spot upwards of 30 bird species, that is comparable with any NNR in South Wales, and we even have hunters here! Its sister site, Pwll Waun Cynon NNR, a little south is almost empty of birds whenever I visit. I suppose the reasoning is, that it has only become extra valuable in the last 30 years since becoming neglected, it is not yet fully matured. The owner may be reluctant to donate it to the community, as it could become valuable industrial land in the future, if the former phurnacite area in Abercwmboi gets cleaned up. However, the site has huge potential. With the widening of the upper and making of a lower pond, inclusion of a wader scrapes, a spring/autumn mowing regime, planting of more berry and seed trees and common reed beds it could become a major haven for wildlife. The RSPB have this down as one of their top birding sites in South Wales, and indeed, their priority right now is focused upon Willow Tits, of which there is an abundance of.

Descriptions of the Site Habitats

My personal view: An area of former pasture-grassland farmland surrounded on all sides by river or canal, woodland, hedgerows, copses and scrub, recolonised by nature in the last 100 years from industrial use from 1800-1900 to form a wetlands area. The area is divided into 6 parts (see Map of Habitats). The Northern (Part 1) is open grassland and meadow with patches of scrub gradually getting wetter by the time it reaches (Part 2) the open reedmace beds with some carr, which includes 3 open ponds and is a floodplain. (Part 3) beyond the footpath & hedgerow is currently a brown field site, to be used for housing, level raised by 1 metre. (Part 4) behind Asda in the middle of the site is a former tip, disturbed wasteground with willow scrub, grassland and rock piles. The Southern most part (Part 5), is as Part 2, open reedmace beds with some carr, ending in a pond, surrounded by (Part 6), grassland and wet meadow.

Information on the site from RCT Council.
"Tirfounder Fields (both the northern and southern bits) both lie in the Mid Cynon Floodplain Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC). The SINC was formally designated as part of the adoption of the new Local Development Plan (LDP) in March 2011. SINC are planning designations which the Council uses to identify the best 'non-statutory' sites (i.e. non formally designated statutory sites like SSSI/SAC) in the County Borough. The SINC designations relate to Policy AW8 of the LDP 'Protection and Enhancement of the Natural Environment' and it is a designation which looks to ensure that nature conservation issues are properly considered within the planning system. It is important to however know that SINC only apply to the planning process and the Policy. So, the reedbeds areas at Tirfounder Fields are within SINC 33 and I attach the SINC description." from Richard Wistow, wildlife ecologist at RCT Council. Richard.j.wistow@rctcbc.gov.uk

Information on the site from NRW (CCW).
"The mid section of the River Cynon including the network of wetlands and wet grassland pastures on the floodplain. The River Cynon supports clean unpolluted water and a natural river channel and wooded bank side. The riverbed is primarily boulders and gravels, with fast flowing broken water. The river supports brown trout and with the advent of the Treforest fish pass, there is potential for salmon. Kingfisher, grey wagtail and dipper all occur. Goosander and cormorant occur in the winter. Recently otter records have increased markedly, and there are reports of breeding otter. The SINC represents the last sizeable fragment of valley bottom grassland in the mid Cynon valley. The grassland is very mixed and diverse (including stands of marshy grassland, swamp, tall herbs and inundation vegetation) and inter-grades with large stands of species rich scrub and wet carr. The floodplain (Tirfounder Fields) supports permanent and temporary pools, lagoons, ditches and sections of long derelict sections of the old Aberdare canal. The SINC includes the scarce narrow-leaved water plantain and the locally uncommon bog bean. The site supports important invertebrate (including dingy skipper and a rich dragonfly fauna) and breeding bird habitat. The site supports permanent lagoons and experiences extensive winter flooding. In the summer coot, little grebe, moorhen and mallard breed and heron regularly use the site in good numbers. In the winter, the site attracts waders and duck, including mallard, teal, shoveller, widgeon, little egret, water rail and snipe. The SINC supports tall hedgerows, wet woodland, scrub and rank herbage and offers excellent songbird habitat and is particularly good for warblers (including a recent summering Cetti warbler). The ditch side willows support breeding willow tit and lesser-spotted woodpecker have been recorded. Barn owl is regularly reported. Survey work has shown that the floodplain supports a significant grass snake population. The site has a high potential for amphibians. Water vole was previously recorded and bats forage over the wet grassland and open water habitats."
Nick Sharp, Conservation officer, CCW. n.sharp@ccw.gov.uk

Grid Ref: NGR SO014019. SO 00 SW. Acres: 32.35.
Ownership: private owner.

1. CCW Phase I Habitat Survey, 1992-1995. 2. Site Visits 1997-2008
3. Ecological Survey and Impact Assessment, Land at Tirfounder Fields, Aberdare, Tisdall King (October 2002).
4. Preliminary Ecological Appraisal of Tirfounder Fields, Aberdare, Komex Clarke and Bond (1998)
5. Rhondda Cynon Taff, Pond Survey 2003 (National Museum and Galleries of Wales)
6. Mike Evans, local lepidopterist. Survey of all moths & butterflies 2003,4
7. James Burton, local naturalist, Survey & record of all biologial life 2012-13

Whois James M Burton?
As a student of nature from an early age, I progressed with my learning through Pencoed College of Agriculture, studying horticulture, botany, conservation in great depth, ending with a HND in Landscape Science in 1997. I then compiled and wrote 8 books on botany with an Amstrad CPC and printed them on a dotmatrix, most notable was 'Umbelliferae of the United Kingdom', which is now a database on this site. I only use trusted institutional websites and books for identification and do not hazard guesses. If you do use any of the photographs from this site, you will be fooling yourself, 500kb JPG's aint worth it. Just ask me and I will email you 60MB TIFFs.

Reference Material Used

Glamorgan Birds

Botanical Society British Isles Images
Botanical Society British Isles Keys
Roger Darlington's Wildflower Finder
John Crellin's Floral Images
Dr Peter Llewellyn's UK Wildflowers
Dr. Keith Jones' Seasonal Flowers
Malcolm Storey's Bio Images
Roger Golding's Ferns Of Britain

Dr Joe Botting's British Bugs
A. Dale's Bugs & Weeds
Nottinghamshire Invertebrates
Wild Guide to Grasshoppers
Myrm's Ant Nest
Microscopy - Hoverflies
British Hoverflies
Garden Safari
Natural History Museum
British Dragonflies

HTML Tableizer.

Planning, Legal, News Reports

Sobell Ecology Report
Cynon Valley River Park
Cynon Leader Report
Ynyscynon Development
Persimmon Planning
Drainage of Canal Path
RCT Conservation
RCT Countryside
RCT Local Biodiversity Action plan
RCT Nature Conservation

Bodies Related To Tirfounder
Countryside Council for Wales
National Resources Wales
Glamorgan Bird Guide
Valleys Bat Group
Welsh Wildlife Trust
Dare Valley Country Park